“We are Marais, 30 years old, and Anna, 28 years old. We are from South Africa, but have been living in Stockholm for the past 10 months, where Marais is studying. We both work for Foodora as bike messengers. As far as we know – according to people at the Pilgrims’ centres and various hostels along the route – we are the first South Africans to complete St. Olavsleden.”
“Cycling in Sweden in Norway is definitely a lot safer than cycling in South Africa. Most towns and cities have really good bicycle infrastructure with dedicated bike paths, but even on the roads we never encountered aggressive or unsafe drivers. Drivers are generally very considerate towards cyclists and do not mind sharing the road. The ‘allemansrätten’ or ‘right of public access’ also makes Sweden and Norway attractive bicycle touring destinations, since you are allowed to camp anywhere in the countryside as long as you do not disturb the land owner and don’t leave any traces behind. We “wild camped” close to the road on at least 5 occasions on our way to Trondheim and plan to wild camp again on the return leg. It’s perfect if you are traveling on a budget, because you can pass through a town during the day to buy food and fill up water and then you can continue to a scenic spot to set up your tent at the end of the day.
The locals that have shown interest are usually very curious and find it unimaginable that you can cycle such a long distance and still have fun! It was never a problem to knock on a farmhouse door when we had to refill our water bottles. On our second day of St. Olavsleden we met a very kind and generous Swedish family. We passed their lakeside summer cottage to ask for directions and before we knew it, we were offered cold drinks, dinner, fished for trout from their pier and had it not been that we had to make some more progress that day, we could have stayed the night!
We wanted to follow the bike route as closely as possible and if you want to do that, the bike maps that you can download on the website or buy printed copies of at the pilgrims’ centre in Selånger are indispensable, because the bike route is not very well developed yet. The points where the walking and cycling routes split and rejoin are often not marked by signs. There are quite a few stretches where the bike route and the walking route follow the same path, but while a path can be fine for walking, it can be unrideable on a loaded touring bike – and that’s coming from mountain bikers who enjoy riding technical terrain! Alternative bike routes still need to be developed and St. Olavsleden has great potential to be a fantastic ‘bikepacking’ route, i.e. mountain biking with light touring equipment.
If you want to follow the entire bike route and don’t want to only ride main roads between towns, then choose a light mountain bike and bikepacking setup. A gravel bike will handle 95% of the route perfectly, but a mountain bike will really make up in the 5% where a gravel bike is not suitable. When you pass through Åre, which is a mountain bike Mecca in summer, make use of the free bike wash facility at the town square. Although you will feel like you are quite fit by the time you reach Norway, all the climbing is still to come! The section from Verdal to Munkeby, Markabygda, Vaernes and Trondheim is particularly hard with lots of climbing, but at the same time one of the most fun and scenic sections of the entire route. With regards to navigation, we did not have one, but a GPS with the .gpx track will be very helpful as it is time consuming to stop and take out a map each time you need to make a route choice. At the same time, rather stop and take out the map when you are in doubt! If you haven’t seen a marker for more than 1km, you are probably on the wrong path!
We have chosen to use our tour to raise awareness and funds for a charity in South Africa called Qhubeka. They provide deserving recipients with bicycles, a simple and reliable form of transportation that has the power to change their lives. You can contribute to our fundraising project on GivenGain at https://www.givengain.com/ap/marais-de-vaal-raising-funds-for-qhubeka-charity/ and you can follow us on Instagram @nordicpilgrimsforqhubeka.